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The extent to which proteins in the gas phase retain their condensed-phase structure is a hotly debated issue. Closely related to this is the degree to which the observed charge state reflects protein conformation. Evidence from electron capture dissociation, hydrogen/deuterium exchange, ion mobility, and molecular dynamics shows clearly that there is often a strong correlation between the degree of folding and charge state, with the most compact conformations observed for the lowest charge states. In this article, we address recent controversies surrounding the relationship between charge states and folding, focussing also on the manipulation of charge in solution and its effect on conformation. 'Supercharging' reagents that have been used to effect change in charge state can promote unfolding in the electrospray droplet. However for several protein complexes, supercharging does not appear to perturb the structure in that unfolding is not detected. Consequently, a higher charge state does not necessarily imply unfolding. Whilst the effect of charge manipulation on conformation remains controversial, there is strong evidence that a folded, compact state of a protein can survive in the gas phase, at least on a millisecond timescale. The exact nature of the side-chain packing and secondary structural elements in these compact states, however, remains elusive and prompts further research.


Zoe Hall, Carol V Robinson. Do charge state signatures guarantee protein conformations? Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry. 2012 Jul;23(7):1161-8

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PMID: 22562394

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